What kind of band would you expect to open for JD Samson's MEN? A lesbian punk trio? A barely-legal, theatrically trained gay duo? Think again. On Saturday night at the Echoplex in Los Angeles, Bass Drum of Death took the stage. With straggly hair covering their faces and a style that oozes beer, mosh pits and garages, Bass Drum of Death ravished the audience with their dirty, DIY rock.
Out chatted with Bass Drum of Death's lead singer, John Barrett, after his exhausting South By South West experience to find out about ruling the house party scene, the band's sense of humor, and the virtues of cheap beer.
Out: And so we finally speak! It took me a while to get my voice back after SXSW.
John Barrett: I'm still not back all the way. I think we did either eight or nine shows over four days.
It was pretty taxing.
Which of your performances was your favorite?
Probably either the Fat Possum show or we played this house party on Saturday night. That was a different kind of fun -- the kind of fun where we only played five songs and I fell a bunch of times and everyone was going nuts. The Fat Possum show was fun because we played well and a lot of people were there, but the house party was fun because we fucked up a lot and it was fun.
Had you been to SXSW before?
This was actually my third time.
Where are based out of?
We are based out of Oxford, Mississippi.
What's your day job?
I have three part-time jobs right now: I do production for a venue downtown, I move furniture, and I work a catering job.
Is there a large music scene in Oxford?
There kind of is. It's either Americana, alt-country or jam bands. It's gotten a lot better in the past couple of years as far as my friends starting different projects and starting to go places with it. We built our own small scene with them. But as far as the town at large, the music scene really sucks.
Where did you meet your band mate Colin?
We went to school together. He's from Oxford. We played in a couple bands early on in college. We both dropped out after two years of college and we started getting touring opportunities. I traveled as a one-man band for about a year and then I was like, 'Fuck this!' I was tired of touring by myself. He has never even played drums before. He started practicing and I asked him if he wanted to learn guitar. It worked out very well.
You guys have a distinct garage rock look. Who inspired you while growing up?
It's the same as musical influences. I always thought the Ramones and Nirvana and Black Sabbath looked really cool. They all look and sound cool. I don't really have anybody in mind that I tried to rip off or copy. I am who I am. The way we dress is the same as the music -- it's really basic. I am trying to do something cool without using a whole lot.
You guys like to rock out. Do you find that your DIY sound is rare right now in the music scene?
It kind of goes both ways. With people being able to record and do stuff for really cheap, some people just use Garage Band. Here it comes on Apple Computers and it super easy to use. It lends itself to a dirtier sound because that is best you can get from that. Some bands nowadays -- I don't want to say take advantage -- but they record stuff that sounds good as opposed to writing a song. We played with a lot of bands where their recordings sound cool but they are weak live. But on the other side, it's refreshing to see an act like Devilla 666 who has nasty recordings and great songs and when they play live it's a revelation. You are blown away because it is so loud and in your face. That is the kind of band I like to play with. I like to play with bands that have good songs and then blow the fuck out of you live.
I haven't seen you guys live yet but I can imagine that your audience loves to dance. Do you find that the crowd you attract is super-hyperactive?
Not as much as I would like it to be. In certain places yes. We've been together for a year and a half now and people are still finding out about us. A lot of people are curious but haven't bought it yet. I see a lot of people nodding their heads and moving around some. I think we are still a new thing. We will play certain places, like the house party at SXSW, and we have been playing shows for them for a year or two now. People aren't going to go ape-shit the first time they see you. They want to inspect you a little bit and figure out whether or not they like you. People don't go as crazy as I would like them to.
Being from rural America, do you find that smaller town audiences are more loyal?
Totally. A lot of times we will play in smaller towns and the one place to play at are house parties. In my experience, every house party we play is well-organized by people who care about the music and don't give a shit about selling tickets and money. They just want to make sure the band has fun and has gas money. I find that people like that do a better job hyping it up to their friends and getting their friends to listen to the band. When we get there, people already know the songs even if we haven't ever played there. To some extent that's right. Again, it can go both ways. The other side of that is that in a small town people might not give a shit and literally no one will be there. It's a breath of fresh air to play a smaller town with kids who are into it.
You are the first band I have ever chatted with that mentioned the importance of house parties. How has the house party scene affected your music?
Playing in a bar is stuffy and you don't get a chance to hang out with people like you would normally. You have to go home and you have to pay for drinks. But house parties, even if you are playing, the line is really blurred between who is there to party and who is there to play. Everybody just hangs out. I've been able to hang out with people and meet a ton of people at house parties. You aren't at a bar, you are at a house party with party people. It's a much better atmosphere to meet people and getting to know new places. As far as the music goes, I like to write songs that are fun to dance and bounce around to. I feel like we translate better in the house party setting.
The name of your band, Bass Drum of Death, is hilarious. Do you guys try to keep a sense of humor about your approach to music?
Oh yes! Actually now we are super serious. We should probably wrap it up. Just kidding. The name is super-jokey. It started because one of my really close buddies started this solo recording project around the same time and he called it Magnificent Ukulele. I was trying to think of what to do. Fuck that. I wanted to do the complete opposite. I started calling the project John Barrett's Bass Drum of Death. On one of the first songs it was just me singing vocals, playing guitar and playing the kick drum. That's how it worked for a while. That's where the name comes from. It's kind of a big joke. Once I started playing with Colin, I wanted to change the name because I wanted to define that it wasn't a one-man band anymore. There were two ways I could have gone. I could have gone with only my name, which would have been boring, so I went with Bass Drum of Death. There's always a sense of humor with what we do. Without a sense of humor you aren't going to last very long.
Who would you like to collaborate with?
I don't know. That's a tough one. Honestly, I would like to be a fly on the wall while Nirvana was in the studio writing songs for the In Utero sessions. That would be crazy. I wouldn't even want to collaborate because it's a 'I'm not worthy' situation. I would just watch. As far as collaborating, I think it would be the shit to play with Keith Richards -- Keith Richards in the sixties when he would lock himself in the bathroom and shoot up and play guitar for six hours. That would be fun to be in there with another guitar and jam. We wouldn't even have to write songs. I would just want to play guitar with him.
Well, to wrap up, what's your favorite beer?
Probably Budweiser in a can.
I like PBR. Any beer that costs more than seven dollars for a six-pack is not really me. I am not a believer in nice beer. Beer is beer. Budweiser is straight up, no bullshit. It's just beer.
For more info and upcoming tour dates visit Bass Drum of Death's official website.
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